We know that there’s been an increase in mental health problems for young people. This should concern everybody – teachers, parents and the whole of society. Depression and stress, self-harming, the inability to be resilient in the face of significant adversity are common stories of our time.
Here’s yet another one from the Guardian website today.
As we’ve said in previous posts (see below also), our education system does little to help these children and young people. What’s more, it significantly contributes to their poor mental state – with the pressure of exams and the ‘need’ to succeed academically.
A more rational and worthwhile focus on personal and social development, including PSHE lessons, would help. In schools, our children and young people are not learning how to live life well.
Here’s a controversial thought.
What if the problem is bigger than this? What if the lack of personal and social development is causing socially unacceptable behaviour? What if the lack of focus on the development of all of the intelligences, including personal and social intelligence, is making sociopathic tendencies more prevalent?
Yesterday, we looked briefly at a list of psychopathic traits. This list comes from the Hare Psychopathy Test, developed by Canadian criminal psychologist Dr. Robert Hare.
Here’s the summary of points in full.
- glib and superficial charm
- grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
- need for stimulation
- pathological lying
- cunning and manipulativeness
- lack of remorse or guilt
- shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
- callousness and lack of empathy
- parasitic lifestyle
- poor behavioural controls
- sexual promiscuity
- early behaviour problems
- lack of realistic long-term goals
- failure to accept responsibility for own actions
- many short-term marital relationships
- juvenile delinquency
- revocation of conditional release
- criminal versatility
Some psychologists say that there is no distinction between sociopathy and psychopathy. Others suggest that the distinction is nature (genetic, hard-wired, innate psychopathy) as opposed to nurture (social circumstances contributing to psychopathic tendencies – sociopathic).
If we consider that some of these traits could occur due to social circumstances – in both mild or extreme situations – then we could prevent such behaviours escalating to dangerous proportions.
We want to make it abundantly clear that we’re not suggesting that members of our younger generations are all going to turn into sociopaths. However, if we don’t teach about and children aren’t given an opportunity to learn about themselves and how they relate to others, then we could be accommodating anti-social and unacceptable behaviour – simply by doing nothing. And this is very different to children learning ‘discipline’.
Furthermore, if we helped children to develop socially and personally, then those who are physically and psychologically unable to mature and cultivate these key intelligences (i.e. those with psychopathic traits) would be more noticeable and could be better supported.
In a time when children and young people are in danger of becoming increasingly insular – with an emphasis on social media interaction rather than actual face-to face interaction, with an emphasis on computer games rather than playing outside with friends, with a system of education that concentrates on individual rather than collaborative work, where society lauds “me” rather than “we” – their opportunities to develop empathy are more limited than with previous generations.
If society values the individual more than the community, academic results more than learning how to live, personal desires and needs more than empathetic attitudes, then we are setting ourselves up for a hostile, thoughtless, dangerous place.
Children and young people need to learn how their behaviour affects others. They need to be given opportunities to talk about their feelings and learn how to express them in a manner that is appropriate – for them and others.
They are not all going to learn empathy by osmosis.
Let’s look at that list again – taking some of the subsidiary comments from the list that demonstrate psychopathic tendencies. We have made comments in italics that could be a starting point for the development of a PSHE programme of work.
- Freed from social conventions – if children and young people aren’t taught about social conventions, then they are liberated from them by default. They need to learn what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is right and wrong, what is harmful, dangerous, anti-social.
- Superiority complex – If children have no understanding of their relationship to others, they can become consumed with themselves.
- Need for stimulation, easily bored – Does our education system give them the right stimulation? Are we really responding to the needs of the children and young people? Have we asked them and then acted on their suggestions for changes to what is being taught?
- Risky behaviour, acting hastily – Children need to learn about their instincts and how to manage these. They need to understand the effects of risky behaviour, on themselves and others. They need to learn how to prevent themselves from rushing into dangerous and anti-social behaviour.
- Deceptive, Dishonest – Maybe a strong focus on human values (not British values, whatever they are) would enable children and young people to contemplate virtuous behaviour and its opposite – ultimately understanding that deception, dishonesty, deviation from the truth is unacceptable and harmful to others.
- Manipulative – Not only should children and young people be learning about how they can be manipulated, they should also be learning how to resist manipulation and how to help others who are being manipulated, and how to help others to stop manipulating.
- Lack of feelings or concerns for losses, pain caused to others, disdain for victims – How are children ever going to learn empathy if they’re not taught about how their behaviour impacts on others? We also need to give young people the opportunity to talk about their anguish when suffering from bereavement or loss.
- Limited range and depth of feelings – If children don’t know what feelings are then how can they learn to express their feelings appropriately? Young people also need to know the difference between feelings and destructive emotions.
- Inadequate control of anger, a lack of deliberation without thinking of consequences – Fight or flight? Our instincts are strong but management of destructive emotions such as anger, disgust, fear should be an integral part of learning for all children and young people – and adults too.
- Potential for bullying – If bullying is left unresolved and unattended then the bully begins to believe that their behaviour is acceptable because it gets them what they want. Bullying and unsociable behaviour should never be ignored.
- Repeated failure to fulfil obligations and commitments – It’s not just a question of penalising a child for not doing something. Children need to learn about commitments and obligations that go beyond the consequences of not doing homework, for instance.
- Inability to form and maintain relationships, sexual promiscuity – and the government says we don’t need statutory sex and relationships education! This is a pivotal role of education. It’s preposterous that children and young people, who persistently ask for more lessons on relationships, are denied this right by a government that doesn’t seem to recognise the damage caused by unstable people who are unable to empathise and form and maintain a range of relationships – with friends, in families and at work.
The diagram above sets out our model of intelligences.
The development of the intellect is essential but this is quite different from the ability to succeed academically.
We also need to teach our children to think in risky situations rather than act solely on their instinctual response. We need our children to learn that their own personal needs and desires are important but they have to relate to the commitment to and the needs and desires of others. We need our children to have opportunities to study values, to intuit, to recognise virtues and to learn how to apply these to their own lives – all part of spiritual intelligence. We also need our children to be physically healthy – as well as mentally.
This is their entitlement – to an education system that enables them to live life well – now and in the future. The lack of focus on managing and understanding behaviours and feelings is dangerous. Learning how to be emotionally intelligent is their right, and all too frequently, it is denied.
The mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people should be at the heart of education. Who knows what might happen if we continue to ignore it in the way we are currently doing.
Really interesting perspective on mental health. Isolation, or separation from the group is a symptom that I think is often missed, but so important to identify and ultimately address the problem.
Agree with so much of this. The structural issues associated with children’s development are ignored.
My own work, establishing early intervention for young persons mental health led by young people in school settings, suggests that young people are far more aware, more so than others give them credit for, of how this development is being curtailed and distorted.